U.K. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer sacked a member of his shadow cabinet, and a former left-wing leadership rival, after she approvingly shared an article that contained what Starmer called “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
“The sharing of that article was wrong because that article contained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, I have therefore stood Rebecca Long-Bailey down from the shadow cabinet,” Starmer told the BBC.
The shadow cabinet is used to refer to the senior group of opposition MPs who take on policy areas that correspond to the government’s cabinet. Long-Bailey had been serving as the shadow education secretary. She will remain as a member of Parliament.
“I’ve made it my first priority to tackle anti-Semitism and rebuilding trust with the Jewish community is a number one priority for me,” Starmer said.
Long-Bailey’s sacking was due to an Independent article she shared on Twitter featuring an interview with actress Maxine Peake, who was interviewed on everything from the British Conservative Party government’s handling of the coronavirus to the recent death of George Floyd in police custody in the U.S.
At one point, Peake says “tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.” The article notes that the Israel police denies such an unfounded claim.
Long-Bailey shared the article, saying Peake was “an absolute diamond.”
Her sacking also comes as Starmer has promised to root out anti-Semitism that was allowed to percolate in the party under the leadership of his far-left predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn stepped down as leader earlier this year after a brutal election defeat in December at the hands of the Tories. Long-Bailey, who was viewed as the candidate who would keep the party firmly on the left, stood for the leadership against the more centrist Starmer — who eventually won.
Long-Bailey, in a lengthy statement on Twitter, said her retweet was in no way “an intention to endorse every part of that article.”
“I wished to acknowledge these concerns and duly issued a clarification of my retweet, with the wording agreed in advance by the Labour Party Leader’s Office, but after posting I was subsequently instructed to take both this agreed clarification and my original retweet down,” she said.
“I could not do this in good conscience without the issuing of a press statement of clarification. I had asked to discuss these matters with Keir before agreeing what further action to take, but sadly he had already made his decision,” she said.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews praised Starmer’s move and said Long-Bailey’s position was “untenable.”
“There can be no space for this sort of action in any party and it is right that after so many challenging years Labour is now making this clear under its new leader,” President Marie van der Zyl said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the left-wing group Momentum, which helped sweep Corbyn to leadership in 2015, accused Starmer of overreacting.
“[Starmer] says he wants party unity, then sacks the most prominent left-winger on the front bench for no good reason. It’s a reckless overreaction,” the group said.